The Call You Never Hope Comes

Yesterday afternoon we got confirmation that my wife’s father had been moved to hospice care. This was expected. He’d been suffering from pancreatic cancer which has a one-year survival rate of 20% across all stages and a five-year survival rate for Stage IV, his diagnosis, of 1%. On top of that, he’d been fighting other health issues for a few months: pneumonia, severe GI problems, and most recently sepsis of the blood. Things have not been looking good for some time, and yesterday, we got word that the doctors had done all they could do for him. There would be pain management, but given that he’d signed a DNR directive, they wouldn’t be treating his illnesses anymore.

It’s a very sad thing to get to that stage of an illness. Given my fear of dying, I can’t imagine being at the point that you’re just waiting to go. But that’s where we had found ourselves with her father. It was a matter of when, not if.

My wife got a call at about 2:00 am this morning and learned that he’d passed on.

It’s still sinking in for her. She didn’t cry until she got to work today, and even then she fought the tears that would inevitably come. Part of me is expecting her to break down at some point soon and let it go, but not for the reasons that you would think.

My wife and her father had a very strained relationship. My wife’s parents adopted her in 1975, and adopted her brother two years later. Her father always wanted a boy, and when her brother came along, most of her dad’s attention went to him and stayed there from that point on. Whenever my wife’s parents divorced, her brother was devastated that their father didn’t make an attempt to gain custody of at least him (my wife’s brother), whereas my wife’s mother often referred to my wife as the “bitter ex” in the relationship. It took my wife a long time to come to grips with her relationship with her father and as long as I’ve known her, most frequently referred to him by his first name and not ever Dad unless it was to his face. (During this blog post, I’ve been careful to respect that boundary by always referring to him as “her father” and not “her dad.”)

It’s my opinion that her grief is more for the loss of the potential relationship that they might have had. Earlier this year when he started to really go downhill, they seemed to reconcile, and I was hopeful that things would start being different, but as soon as the immediate life-threatening scare was over, things were back to the way they always have been. I think that momentary lapse of estrangement between the two of them really drove home that sense of loss of potential at the end.

I can relate to what she’s going through somewhat because I’ve experienced both the loss of a parent and the loss of potential in a relationship. I lost my dad in 1995, and my half-brother – who I had only the most tenuous of relationships with – in 2008. Dad’s death hit me hard, but my brother’s death barely registered with me emotionally – until I started to realize that the ability to build a stronger relationship with him would never come, and then I started to grieve. I can’t really say that I know what she’s going through, though. Neither my brother nor I seemed to value a sibling relationship enough to want to pursue one, yet my wife spent her entire childhood and a good portion of her adult life desperately wanting her father’s approval. This has got to be extremely hard on her for the so very many emotions that she’s experiencing right now, and I don’t envy her that. I’ll help where I can, supporting her through the whole thing, but it’s her grief to have.

As for me, my own relationship with the man wasn’t very good, as you might imagine. His solution to my mental health issues was always “get a job.” He didn’t understand that it was painfully difficult for me to do so most of the time, and he was always convinced that he knew what was right for me when he barely knew me at all. Most of my experiences with him were strained at best, though always cordial. Generally I existed in his world and that was that. The only time that he ever wished me happy birthday was this year, when my wife was visiting him on the occasion and she had to tell him what day it was. That instance always felt more like a situation that wishing me happy birthday was the only course of action that he could really take given the circumstances, and not a very genuine gesture.

I’m mourning because my wife is, and not much more than that.

I feel bad about that, I really do. I wish that he’d have acknowledged me as a son-in-law rather than just the guy that married his daughter, but it always felt more like the latter to me.

Part of me is relieved for him. Pancreatic cancer is a hell of a way to go, and I know he was in a lot of pain. I’m glad that he’s not hurting anymore.


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